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Despite progress in tobacco control, adequate treatment only reaches 1 in 7 smokers globally

Leading global public health experts have called for increased support for tobacco dependence treatment and for its integration into all tobacco control efforts. Approaches like the Global Bridges network are emerging that show how to equip healthcare professionals with the necessary skills to offer treatment.

A comment published in The Lancet, “Time to take tobacco dependence treatment seriously, notes that tobacco addiction poses one of the largest public health threats facing the global population. It disproportionately affects low and middle income countries, which have fewer resources with which to fight back:

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco related diseases kill more than five million people worldwide each year.
  • Yet, in the six years since the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) parties adopted guidelines calling for cessation treatment to be integrated into tobacco control, only 13% of countries have developed comprehensive treatment services (WHO MPOWER report).
  • Healthcare systems and healthcare professionals should play a central role in helping their patients stop.

Article authors, Professors Martin Raw, Judith Mackay, and Srinath Reddy, note that relatively simple, effective cessation interventions now exist which could be put in place quickly and affordably. These include: all countries establishing an official national treatment strategy, recording tobacco use in all patient records, training healthcare workers to routinely give brief advice to stop, and low cost treatments like automated text messaging and affordable medications.

“Helping people to stop sooner, rather than later, will save lives. Measures such as tax increases, restrictions on smoking in public places and media campaigns create demand for cessation support,” said Raw, director of the International Centre for Tobacco Cessation. “I believe that we then have an obligation to offer treatment to those who need it – especially as treatment works.”

One global effort to offer help to smokers is Global Bridges, an international organization which, since 2010, has brought together healthcare professionals seeking to broaden access to support for tobacco users. Coordinated by Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society, the Global Bridges network offers a range of resources for members, including face-to-face training, webinars and blogs in seven languages. Global Bridges has also worked with funders to support grantees in delivering more than 33,000 hours of training to more than 3,600 healthcare professionals in 63 countries.

“Only tobacco cessation delivers a drop in smoking prevalence and consequent improvement in population health in the short term,” said Katie Kemper, MBA, executive director of Global Bridges. “This article emphasizes the importance of offering tobacco users help to quit, and empowering patients and physicians to do so.”

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, but Global Bridges is a prime example of an international network of skilled, passionate healthcare professionals tailoring treatment to specific populations. It has great potential as a useful model for expansion,” said J Taylor Hays, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and chair of Global Bridges. “Global Bridges is also an example of a capacity-building initiative that equips healthcare professionals with the expertise they need in order to empower patients. More work needs to be done to build treatment capacity, particularly in low and middle income countries. Healthcare professionals are key to helping smokers stop.”